Like many people, travel blogger and personal finance coach Niqua V. found herself with a mountain of student loan debt after completing her university studies. A native of Virgin Gorda in the Virgin Islands, and currently based in Florida, Niqua managed to eliminate her 21K debt in just 11 months, all while continuing to travel.

“My student loan debt was something I knew I would have to face eventually. After completing graduate school in 2018 where I pursued an MBA degree, I knew I had to come up with a plan. I took full advantage of the pandemic forbearance since loans were not accruing interest and payments were not due, and began attacking my first two student loans in June 2020. I continued paying off each loan into 2021. Then, in February 2021, to gain additional interest, I saved the remaining payoff balance (<$10K) and completed my goal in May 2021”.

Courtesy of Niqua V.

To achieve this, there were several things Niqua did. The most important of these, was budgeting. Everything outside of her bills, expenses, or other savings went towards her student loan debt and travel. She budgeted each month and tracked her expenses extensively.

She also reduced whatever expenses she could. These included lowering her utilities, phone bill, and internet bill by negotiating with her providers. She also found ways to bring in additional income and she created a travel fund.

“For me, travel was non-negotiable, so I prioritized saving for travel each month, no matter what the amount was. I used travel hacking, but not only with credit cards rewards. I also utilized travel hacks such as traveling with low budget airlines to travel often and for cheap. And I saved on accommodations by visiting family or friends who were living in destinations I had never been to.”

Last but not least, Niqua put all unexpected incoming money towards her debt to accelerate her payoff. Her original ‘debt free date’ was December 2021, however, she ended up achieving her goal seven months ahead of schedule.

Courtesy of Niqua V.

Niqua became interested in financial literacy early, leading her to choose accounting as her field of study. Relocating from the Virgin Islands to the United States, she realized there was a lot she had to learn about U.S. systems specifically. She began reading and educating herself more about financial education. Now Niqua considers it a personal mission of hers to help other navigate the spaces of travel and personal finance, which she says go hand in hand.

“I wanted people to see a young Black woman traveling and still achieving financial goals. You cannot travel without understanding money and finances. Even if you travel hack with credit cards, for example, you have to at least have some general understanding about credit and money. Being able to educate others to review and take care of their finances through Financially Winning, while still being able to travel domestically or internationally through Traveling With Niqua is bringing my two worlds together and I love it!”

Courtesy of Niqua V.

Some of Niqua’s main tips for debt payoff are:

  • Face your Debt Number: Take some time to add up all of your debts and understand how much debt you have. You can use a recent copy of your credit report to help you categorize them.
  • Create a Functioning Budget and Track Expenses Regularly: This is the only way you will be able to thoroughly understand your money habits and see where you can use additional funds towards debt payoff.
  • Use Unexpected Money and Increase Income: If you receive money such as tax refunds, bonuses, stimulus checks, etc. or if you can temporarily increase your income through side hustling, then allocate some funds towards making extra debt payments
  • Choose a Debt Payoff Strategy: It can be overwhelming, especially when you see everything at once. There are various methods but the two main ones are: Debt Snowball, which is when you just want to gain momentum in your debt payoff journey and gain some quick wins by attacking the smallest debt first. This is the method Niqua used when she began taking on her student loans. The other method is Debt Avalanche, which makes the most sense mathematically, because you attack the debt with the highest interest rate first.
  • Celebrate Milestones. Niqua says this is one of the most important tips we should not leave out.
Courtesy of Niqua V.

“One of the things ‘personal finance gurus’ say is that you should not do anything fun while you are getting out of debt, but I disagree. If I did not continue to budget for travel and incorporate personal funds for my mani-pedis, I would probably still be working through my debt or would have already given up.”

One of Niqua’s favorite ways to save on flights is by traveling during off season to destinations that may not be as popular. She uses Google Flights’ unique analytics to determine the best time to book flights. She also flies with low budget airlines such as Spirit and Frontier to travel domestically and internationally when it makes sense, and gets a further discount by purchasing tickets at their counters.

Courtesy of Niqua V.

“This is a major travel hack that people overlook! Also, be sure to utilize airline miles/rewards and travel reward cards. My favorite is Chase Sapphire Preferred, and I use reward points to offset hotel costs, as well. Other ways to save on hotels include traveling with others and splitting the cost with them, and also negotiating with Airbnb hosts for cheaper rates, especially if it’s the slow season.”

Niqua is currently planning her travels for the remainder of 2021, which will include a trip back to her hometown, Virgin Gorda in the Virgin Islands. She is also planning to continue her journey to travel to all 50 states, of which she has visited 24 so far.

For more travel hacking tips and information on financial literacy, follow Niqua at @travelingwithniqua and @financiallywinning.

Related: This Couple Paid Off $118,000 In Debt By Traveling In An RV